In addition to my responsibilities as Technology Coordinator, I teach a reading and math group. Teaching reading has always been one of my strengths, but I haven’t felt the same way about math. What I love about math does not come in textbooks; it never did. What I really enjoy is making meaning of math and solving puzzles.
This year, I’ve made a shift in my teaching, but it’s been really challenging. I have a fourth grade math group. For the most part, the group needs support in problem-solving and application of the algorithms they’ve learned so well. To teach the group elapsed time, money, multiplication, addition, subtraction, decimals, and general planning skills, I’ve created a project to plan a vacation for a fictional family. I’ve created an outline for them, which takes the stress off of knowing where to start and what information to gather. We’ve used a calendar to decide when the family should travel and made decisions about where to travel and what mode of transportation to take based on the amount of time it takes to travel to the destination, which we researched online using flight calculators and Google Maps. Next steps will be researching the destination, selecting activities, and creating a presentation with bar graphs and schedules for the family.
The challenge here is that I know I am facilitating the learning of more meaningful math, yet I can’t as easily check the skills off a list of organized goals– it seems disorganized and random; some of the goals are literacy goals, executive functioning goals, and technology goals. There are times we spend the bulk of an instructional block problem-solving how to navigate the iPad or computer for research. These goals are life skills that are being taught in my math group, but it can feel like a waste of time when I consider my list of math goals– even though I know it’s not.
Is this perception a result of the standards being used to drive accountability? Have I been taking them too literally all these years? Is it the fault of the assessment structure?
Seeing the level of excitement, engagement, motivation, and understanding surrounding the higher-level thinking and language of the project is what reminds me that this is the way we should be teaching math. Working with children with speech and language impairments has really challenged the idea of teaching a skill and then teaching its application through a made up situation (at least for me). People don’t learn through rote memorization and meaningless context, but our math standards and available programs suggest that it’s the way we should teach.